sábado, 14 de enero de 2017

Most people instinctively feel threatened by the postmodern redefinition of gender. Their instincts are correct

Long read: What liberal intellectuals get wrong about transgenderism

by Professor John Milbank, an Anglican theologian and President of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham

The populist voter insurgencies of 2016 are complex, but one important aspect of them is the rejection of a seamless liberal order and worldview. Despite its unbearable claims to be the only possible worldview, liberalism has been rejected because it does not work for the majority of people. And just as liberal economics are now being questioned, so are liberalism’s cultural and ethical assumptions – in a way that the highly intelligent liberal Richard Rorty prophesied 20 years ago.

The backlash against liberalism

Liberals have too casually spoken as if being white, male and heterosexual were in itself a cause for suspicion, rather than a condition that white heterosexual males cannot help. So liberals should not be surprised if they now face a backlash from ordinary, not very successful WHMs who have dangerously started to think of themselves as a threatened “identity”.

This “whitelash” may well sometimes take on unpleasant forms of racial prejudice, misogyny, dislike of all Muslims, nationalism, even anti-semitism and so forth. But more commonly it is a reaction to liberals’ tendency to obsess over their favourite issues to the neglect of what the majority needs: family, community and work security along with a sense of cultural identity. (An identity that is all the more precious to the less-privileged, and often the key to their survival.) Too often liberals can sound not just as if they do not care about these things, but even as if they should be disparaged.

What is more, it is possible that liberals have too easily assumed that there exists a new consensus over abortion rights, euthanasia rights, gay marriage, transgender issues and positive discrimination (as opposed to formal equal access) for women and racial minorities. In reality, it may well be that a large number of people either reject or have doubts about these things, but feel that it is no longer acceptable to say so. Their real views perhaps emerged anonymously as one aspect of the votes for Brexit and for Trump.

In the face of all this, one can well feel a divided reaction. On the one hand, a fear of mass tyranny and new reasons to feel hesitant about the undiluted virtues of pure democracy. (See my new book The Politics of Virtue, co-written with Adrian Pabst). On the other hand, a certain sense that the voters have grasped several truths. Last year’s votes showed an inchoate popular recognition that liberalism has become a violent and elitist global tyranny, that economic and cultural liberalism are really at one (Blair, the Clintons, Cameron) and that we may have modified or abandoned ultimately Christian norms about sex and gender all too casually and with no serious debate. These popular instincts may all be far more intellectually cogent than the vapid conclusions of a thousand postmodern academic seminars.

This point was for me well illustrated by a recent radio phone-in programme where an academic rightly said that “race” was a mere European ideological construction, but a listener then asked why, in that case, the academic wanted to validate “black history” and “black studies” in isolation? Would that not just reinforce the ideological delusion? she naively but perceptively asked. The academic had no serious answer, illustrating the dialectical illiteracy of so many supposed intellectuals today.


What comes after transgender? Surely no gender at all, but only the lone self, wandering trapped in a labyrinth of endlessly binary forking paths, by which it is more controlled than it can ever be controlling. With gender vanishes sex, save for self-pleasuring, and with both sex and gender vanishes the most fundamental mode of eros and relationality: that between man and woman. Most non-tyrannical human self-government has been built on male-female relationality, as Ivan Illich showed. It also provides the metaphors on which most of religion is founded, from Hinduism to the Wisdom literature of the Bible.

And with this vanishing, reproduction would be more and more removed from the sphere of free and loving relationships and handed over to market forces and state scientific control. Increasingly isolated individuals would still want babies and it would be in the interests of both commerce and the state to provide them with the artificial means to do so and to seek to exert influence over that process and its outcome. This is just what Aldous Huxley predicted in his Brave New World, whose title of course ironically invokes the founding cultural shock of the recognition of sexual difference in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. His brave new dystopia is really a world that puts an end to the true human novelty.

It is not surprising if the majority of people feel threatened by transgender obsessions, both for the way in which they themselves are perceived and for the fate of their children and their own way of life. Dimly, perhaps, they also discern the post-humanist direction in which this is all heading. Both the unchurched and Christian dissenters may have now obliquely spoken up for the western and Christian legacy more abruptly and absolutely than the mainline churches.


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